Google Buzz: Really Big Privacy FAIL

February 11, 2010

Creeped out. That’s how I felt as soon as I clicked on the button in my Gmail that asked if I wanted to try out  Buzz, Google’s new social networking program.  I really didn’t like seeing my most frequently-used  Gmail contacts automatically displayed there, and I was especially disturbed to see that I already had “followers.”   And it gets worse:  turns out the information about your contacts is displayed by default in your public Google profile when you first turn on Buzz.  And your Picasa photos  might get “Buzzed” to your “followers” even if you didn’t mean them to– ’cause Buzz shares public Picasa albums by default also. Turns out I’m far from alone in thinking all of  this is a big, big problem.The online buzz about Buzz is that the default privacy settings aren’t appropriate for a service that is tied to Gmail– which many people, including me, use for business as well as personal mail.  In fact, I’d have to say I’m a Gmail power user;  not only do I have several accounts of my own, I administer Google Apps, which includes a form of Gmail,  for several businesses and nonprofits.  And since discretion is the better part of business (as well as personal life) spreading one’s contact list so promiscuously about is a really, really bad idea, as more than a few commentators have already noted since Buzz was launched this week.

In a post today on Silicon Alley Insider Nicholas Carlson says a Google spokesperson asked him to tone down his original strong criticism of the default privacy settings on Buzz:

Like this: “In other words, after you create your profile in Buzz, if you don’t edit any of the default settings, someone could visit your profile and see the people you email and chat with most (provided you didn’t edit this list during profile creation).”

(Freaking out already? Here’s how to IMMEDIATELY make these list private and then edit them >)

Oh, please, Google: There are ELEVEN steps in this guide to “making your list private.”

I can tell you, from my experience in setting up Google accounts for many beginning users that a very large proportion of people who are going to find that Buzz button in their Gmail and click on it out of curiosity (and thus trigger those default [anti] privacy settings) are not, in a million years, going to know about, let alone be able to follow those eleven steps.

This is a privacy fail, Google.  A really really big privacy fail.

The only way to fix it is to change those default settings so that Buzz users have to choose –opt-in– which contacts they want shown –ANYWHERE.

Until that happens, I’ve Buzz-ed OFF.  (and you can too, in one step: go to the very bottom of your Gmail screen and click on the teeny tiny link that says “turn off Buzz.”)

Update: More, from Lifehacker, on How to Stop Google Buzz from Showing the World Your Contacts

Update 2:  MSNBC’s Buzz Privacy Checklist

Filed under: Google services

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